Queer Objects: William Keble Martin Lily Illustration

 William Keble Martin Lily Illustration

by Ashley Eyvanaki

Lillies by William Keble Martin (RAMM Collections)

Have you seen William Keble Martin’s illustration of flowers in the lily family? The Reverend spent much of his life studying plants and capturing their likeness in sketches and paintings. In 1934, his work took him to the vicarage of Great Torrington, where he devoted his energy to visiting parishioners and preparing sermons. However, his free time was spent in the garden and nature, studying botany from real life. For example, Martin drew the meadow saffron flower or Colchicum Autumnale seen in the bottom-right corner of the illustration from life, basing it on a specimen found in Torrington. This illustration of flowers in the lily family was a preliminary plate to be included in his book The Concise British Flora in Colour, which was then published in 1965.

Historically, lilies also hold significant meaning within the LGBTQ+ community. For example, the floral paintings of artist Georgia O’Keeffe have widely been thought to have a dual meaning. In particular, her delicate paintings of calla lilies have been viewed by some art critics as an intimate depiction of the female genitalia, so have been repurposed into an erotic lesbian symbol. During the 1970s, a new wave of feminists began to celebrate O’Keeffe’s portrayal of nature, the body, and themes of gender, despite her neither encouraging nor discouraging such interpretations of her work.

By 1999, artist and activist Michael Page suggested that the trillium flower be used as a symbol of bisexuality. The flower is significant as a member of the lily family, as well as for first causing scientists to use the word ‘bisexual’, albeit in reference to them having both male and female sex organs, rather than in reference to sexual orientation. Page wanted to create a prominent symbol for the bisexual community, much like how the rainbow gay pride flag had become emblematic of the gay community after its creation by Gilbert Baker. As a result, the bisexual pride flag consisted of a pink and blue stripe, with the former representing homosexuality and the latter representing heterosexuality, with both overlapping in the middle to form a purple stripe that symbolised both sexualities becoming one. This flag design emblazoned with a trillium grew to be widely accepted across Mexico by 2001, intertwining themes of nature with bisexuality.

What is your favourite LGBTQ+ flag design? Tell us in the comments below.

Queer Objects: The Canterbury Bell Slide

The Canterbury Bell Slide

by Ashley Eyvanaki

Magic Lantern Slide: Flower Studies – Canterbury Bell (RAMM Collections)

Can you spot the magic lantern slide of a Canterbury Bell? This slide by William Weaver Baker shows a flower specimen renowned for its bell-shaped, violet-blue colour. Baker was a keen photographer and produced many collections of slides with different themes throughout his lifetime, with this slide being one of fifty-two floral images.

Historically, purple flowers such as violets have been linked to the poetry of Sappho (c.610-570 BCE), a Greek poet who lived on the island of Lesbos. She is believed to be the first woman to openly express loving another woman, and her legacy resulted in the word ‘lesbian’ as we commonly use it today. Although only fragments of her poetry remain, many of them describe her idyllic island life and deep love of nature, as seen in the following fragment:

‘Rejoice, go and

remember me. For you know how we cherished you.

But if not, I want

to remind you

[…] and beautiful times we had.

For many crowns of violets

and roses

[…] at my side you put on’

– Fragment 94, Sappho in translation by Anne Carson

There are also many other notable instances of violets appearing in connection with the LGBTQ+ community, in both colour and floral form. In the play The Captive of 1926, one female character gave another a bouquet of violets, creating sapphic undertones. This led to public uproar, resulting in the New York City district attorney’s office shutting down the Broadway production in 1927. Across America, the link between violets with lesbianism led to a lack of violet sales in florists. However, in Parisian showings, many lesbian and bisexual women began to wear violets on their lapels in solidarity with one another.

The colour violet went on to appear on the original rainbow flag, which was created to celebrate LGBTQ+ love, life, and pride in 1978. Taking inspiration from this, The Violet Quill group of gay male writers would often meet to critique each other’s work in New York City, from 1980 to 1981.

What colour do you associate with love? Tell us in the comments below.

Queer Objects: Sampler with Carnations

Sampler with Carnations

by Ashley Eyvanaki

Sampler (RAMM Collections)

Have you seen this sampler of religious verses surrounded by botanical patterns? It is the work of a seven-year-old Sarah Bechin, who was born in Surrey in c.1776. Both strawberries and carnations are common motifs on samplers, likely as strawberries symbolise innocence and purity, whilst pink carnations were emblematic of maternal love. Interestingly, by 1892, the green carnation had become emblematic of LGBTQ+ love, when queer author and playwright Oscar Wilde requested an actor wear the flower pinned to his lapel, on the opening night of his play Lady Windermere’s Fan. This resulted in many of Wilde’s friends within the audience also wearing a green carnation tucked into their buttonholes, with the flower blooming into a symbol of same-sex attraction within Wilde’s social circle.

This subtle homosexual coding continued into the 1900s, acting as an earlier version of the more explicit handkerchief code, in which gay and bisexual men would use different coloured hankies to indicate their sexual preferences. In late 1892, Wilde’s lover Lord Alfred Douglas wrote a poem called Two Loves. It draws on natural imagery to create a floral utopia, in which heterosexual and homosexual love are personified as two beautiful youths. The former is self-assured of their status in society, whilst the latter is deeply saddened by the fact that they represent ‘the love that dare not speak its name’.

However, the novel The Green Carnation by Robert Hichens was published in 1894. The plot was believed to be based on the real-life affair of Wilde and Douglas, so was quickly withdrawn from circulation. However, by this point the damage to Wilde’s reputation could not be undone, and both Douglas’ poem and Hichens’ novel contributed towards the evidence used against Wilde during his two consecutive trials for gross indecency. He went on to be sentenced to two years of hard labour in 1895.

Despite this, Wilde never revoked his complicated feelings of love towards Douglas. Despite his ruined reputation and legal hardship, he went on to summarise his time with his lover in a letter to his solicitor Leonard Smithers in 1897, writing: ‘He understands me and my art, and loves both. […] He has also ruined my life, so I can’t help loving him – it is the only thing to do.’

What qualities do you look for in a partner? Tell us in the comments below!

Queer Objects: Lace Sprig of a Pansy

Lace Sprig of a Pansy

by Ashley Eyvanaki

Honiton (East Devon) lace sprig (RAMM Collections)

Can you spot the lace sprig in the shape of a pansy? Made from delicate East Devon lace, this flower has been made with raised petals and veins, with a combination of whole and half stitches, to decorate a pillow. During the early twentieth century, many slang terms for gay men had botanical roots, such as ‘daisy’, ‘buttercup’, and particularly ‘pansy’. However, by the 1920s, the term ‘pansy’ was used as a derogative slur across America, against gay men who presented themselves as feminine or flamboyant.

In particular, the term ‘pansy’ was used prominently across New York during this period, a time labelled as the ‘pansy craze’ by historians such as George Chauncey. During the 1930s, many underground bars and nightclubs opened up across America to covertly combat the prohibition period. The entertainment provided at such establishments ranged from lesbian and gay artists to drag performers. As a result, these venues became a pivotal part of the ‘pansy craze’. In New York City, entire events were devoted to ‘female impersonators’, though they were soon shut down by the police. However, they acted as a precursor to drag queens and the drag scene that remains a cornerstone of queer culture even today. In fact, the Stonewall Riots of 1969 were led by self-identified drag queens, such as Marsha P. Johnson.

Contrastingly, during the ‘pansy craze’ period in Hollywood, there was much queer representation within the film industry, with LGBTQ+ performers having relative freedom behind the camera and onscreen. However, after the repeal of the prohibition this became less tolerated, and the sympathetic portrayal of queer characters was prohibited by the motion-picture production code from being included in Hollywood films.

Today, the term ‘pansy’ has been reclaimed and adapted for positive use by the LGBTQ+ community. Initiatives such as The Pansy Project aim to combat verbal and physical acts of homophobia by planting pansies at the sites of such crimes. Artist Paul Harfleet began this project by planting pansies in Manchester to mark his own experience of homophobia. This then grew into a larger network of pansies being planted on the behalf of others across the UK, and as part of different film festivals and events. This simple action turns an act of hatred into an act of nurturing love, reclaiming the term ‘pansy’ with a gesture of gentle resistance.

What do different flowers represent to you? Tell us in the comments below.

Queer Objects: Pelagia Noctiluca Jellyfish Illustration

Pelagia Noctiluca Jellyfish Illustration

Pelagia (young) Weymouth 1843: Pelagia noctiluca: jellyfish (RAMM Collections)

by Ashley Eyvanaki

Have you seen this jellyfish illustration? This pencil and watercolour sketch was made by Philip Henry Gosse in 1843, and depicts a younger specimen of the pelagia noctiluca jellyfish, which is known for its distinctive lavender colour. As a result, its common name is the ‘mauve stinger’, though it is also known as the ‘purple-striped jelly’, ‘purple people eater’, and ‘night-light jellyfish’. The latter name comes from its Latin title, as pelagia means ‘of the sea’, whilst nocti stands for night and luca stands for light. This refers to the fact that this jellyfish glows in the dark with a lavender luminescence.

Historically, the colour lavender has been linked to LGBTQ+ life and love since the 1920s. There were two movements associated with lavender relating to the queer community – the ‘Lavender Scare’ and the ‘Lavender Menace’. In the United States, the ‘Lavender Scare’ took place alongside the ‘Red Scare’ during the 1950s, paralleling anti-communist ideologies of the Cold War period. This resulted in an internal investigation into homosexual government employees, as they were regarded as communist sympathisers who could be more easily manipulated. As a result, they were viewed as national security risks, resulting in their mass dismissal from federal employment, and normalising homophobic discriminatory policies within federal agencies.

The ‘Lavender Menace’ was a phrase coined by Betty Friedan in 1969, during a speech to the National Organization for Women. During this talk, Friedan stated that they should distance themselves from lesbians, whom she collectively called “the lavender menace”. As such, Rita Mae Brown and other lesbian feminist activists planned a peaceful protest response in 1970, during which they interrupted a women’s event by revealing t-shirts that had ‘Lavender Menace’ emblazoned across them. This turned the tide of public opinion on lesbianism and women’s rights, making it much more positive. As such, at its next national conference the organisation revoked its stance and amended it, stating that lesbian rights were a “legitimate concern of feminism”.

What is your favourite phrase or symbol that has been reclaimed by the LGBTQ+ community? Tell us in the comments below!

Queer Collectors’ Case – Natalie’s Lesbian Archive & Information Centre (LAIC) Membership Card

Lesbian Archive & Information Centre (LAIC) Membership Card

donated by Natalie McGrath

In 1995 I visited LAIC as it was beginning to pack up its collections and relocate to Glasgow Women’s Library. I had just finished my second year as an undergraduate and was beginning to research for my dissertation.

Little did I know then that one of the women there to welcome me was Jackie Forster. Jackie was an actor, a TV presenter, a founder of the magazine Sappho, part of CHE, the Campaign for Homosexual Equality and she was also at the very first UK Pride March in 1971. I just didn’t realise at the time I had met a legend of queer life. The penny dropped when I saw a documentary about Jackie as part of The Day That Changed My Life series in 1997. I also read about Jackie many years later in Diva or some other queer publication.

Luckily I took wine on that hot summer dusty London day, which was warmly received and drunk later at a meeting. I received a thanks for it with all the information about becoming a fully fledged member of LAIC and their summer newsletter. I’m sat here wondering how many other lesbians received that newsletter that summer and hoped that the archive would continue and thrive in its new home. It did and it has thankfully.

Years later the badges from this collection were resonant for me again as GWL were shortlisted alongside Dreadnought South West, which I co-run for an award at the Women’s History Network Prize Awards. It reintroduced me to the collection and led me to visiting GWL for the first time where they were running a big project on the Lesbian Archive, ensuring its presence through digital archiving and work would mean it could reach a whole new audience around the world. How times have changed!

Re-connecting with these queer objects this summer took me back to a time that is part of my story as a queer person. Section 28 was still having a huge impact, causing a lot of shame and damage to LGBTQ+ people. Thinking about it now it feels like LAIC was such a revolutionary space, and that as a collection it was and still is such a vital part of a wider growing picture of queer identities, lives lived and queerstories.

These moments that I have joined up mark somewhere my own identity and queerness as a lesbian. As I get older and look back I understand the vitality of these collections more and more and funnily enough in a way it has probably led me to here. To this current wave of work I am doing queering the museum and the oral stories that will follow and become part of a permanent collection at RAMM. These pivotal fragments are emotional ones. It clearly struck a chord back then as well as now and these objects are something I have kept, preserved and valued for 25 years now.

I met Sue John from Glasgow Women’s Library a couple of years ago, who made the original design for the postcard. Sue recognised it when I shared it on Twitter this summer as her design work. Before cut and paste on computers there were scissors and glue to make things. Sue reminded me of the d.i.y culture that fuelled so much of queer cultural life at the time. I think that legacy continues to thrive.

The badges tell so many stories in the image and it makes me wonder how many lesbians they belonged to and over how long? Who wore them and where? Whether they were worn in public spaces or privately in havens of safety? Each individual badge tells and carries a human story. I particularly like the Warm Fuzzy Dyke badge.

Queer Collectors’ Case – Unicorn Pencil Case

Unicorn Pencil Case

donated by Mel McGrath

Being a queer woman can be challenging, but Unicorns make me smile and feel free and silly. Who wouldn’t want to be a unicorn in this crazy world?!? This pencil case brought a smile to my face everyday when I used it for my recent studies and continues to remind me to embrace the diversity of life in general, but also reflects my queerness and uniqueness in its bold and colourful way.  Embrace your inner unicorn today and be silly and free!  I love my big queer pencil case!

Queer Collectors’ Case – Return of the Mantra

Return of the Mantra

donated by Susie Williamson

I’ve always loved reading, particularly in the fantasy genre, but have long been struck by the lack of diversity in the characters. So, I decided to write my own book, with a protagonist who just so happens to be a lesbian. Therefore, my queer object for the collector’s case contribution is my novel, Return of the Mantra, the first in a series of epic fantasy, with a touch of eco-fiction, and LGBT+ representation.

Queer Collectors’ Case – Rainbow Pride Badge

Rainbow Pride Badge

donated by Ashley Eyvanaki

I’ve always collected badges as mementoes of places I’ve been to and memories I’ve made.

There’s my green badge that declares ‘Go Veggie!’ next to an image of a carrot, that I bought jokingly after turning vegetarian back in primary school. Then there’s my badge of a soot sprite from the film Spirited Away, bought during my Studio Ghibli obsession of comprehensive school. There’s even my rose gold badge of a sword and shield, with the poetry of Chinese revolutionary Qiu Jin engraved into it. It states, ‘Don’t tell me women are not the stuff of heroes’, reflecting my love of the fiercely feminist writers I came across in college.

To me, badges are declarations of the things we hold dear to us, so I love buying them to decorate my tote bags or denim jacket. As such, it was no real surprise that I gravitated toward the arts and crafts stall at Cardiff Comic Con in 2014. I remember rummaging through glass jars filled with different badges, stickers, and patches, whilst my friends browsed through racks of clothes at the stalls nearby. I even remember looking at badges decorated with designs of different animals, before coming across one that made me pause. It had stripes forming a rainbow across it, like a palm-sized Pride flag. It seemed strange to me, that something so small could be symbolic of an entire movement and moment in history.

My heart started thumping double-time as I debated buying it. At this point in my life, I was sixteen and hesitantly coming to terms with the fact that I might be a lesbian, though was still busy unravelling all of the negative connotations that word held in my mind. I certainly wasn’t ‘out and proud’ to any of my family, or the friends I was visiting the convention with, so buying this badge suddenly became a stealth mission. The seller at the arts and crafts stall looked at me with a mixture of understanding and sympathy when I brought the badge up to the till to pay, oh-so-subtly hidden underneath a badge of a cat I didn’t particularly want. I’m sure she could tell by my constant glances around that I was trying to keep my purchase a secret from my friends, so she even offered to gift-wrap them for me. On the train ride home, my friends all revealed their purchases of the day. I remember showing off my collection of comics and art prints – and a single badge with a cat on it.

Even though buying the Pride badge didn’t suddenly resolve my complicated feelings of internalised homophobia, it was a real moment of acceptance to myself. When I came out to my family and friends a year later, I remember finding it tucked away in a drawer and blowing a layer of dust from it, before looking around my room for something to pin it to. After being accepted to Exeter University, I started wearing it on my backpack around campus, and it soon became a way of connecting with other LGBT+ people.

In my third year of university, I visited Gay’s The Word in London, the only exclusively LGBT+ bookshop in England. It served as a meeting location for many LGBT+ groups throughout history, such as the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners of the 1980s. The actions of the London branch were even explored in the film Prideby director Matthew Warchus in 2014, which brought much attention back to the bookshop. Whilst browsing their shelves and daydreaming about working there one day, I noticed something gleaming at the back of the shop. And aged twenty-two, openly out and proud in the bookshop I’d always wanted to visit as a teenager, I was delighted to find a felt wall glittering with Pride badges, just like the one on my backpack.